Four great techniques for handling “Test-Day Stress”

The obvious part: The SAT is likely more important than any other test you’ve taken so far. The stakes—and the anxiety—can feel high.

The not-as-obvious part: The score you will get can seem like a numerical representation of your self-worth—a number that labels you as intelligent and good enough, or not.


Higher stakes, and, understandably, higher anxiety. With so much pressure, it’s natural to start ruminating about the what-ifs.

What if I can’t concentrate?

What if I don’t remember what I studied??

What if my score is awful???

Wait a second. STOP. If we’re going to come up with hypotheticals about an imaginary future, we can certainly do better than that.

What if you concentrate better than usual?

What if you know all the answers??

What if your score is…high???

The point is, anxiety exists only in your mind, which you have control over. Try some of these techniques to use that control to your advantage:

Technique #1

Along with the “what-ifs,” you have access to an infinite number of uplifting, empowering thoughts. For example, “I so got this,” “I prepared, and I know what I’m doing,” or “I’m always more capable than I think.” Try a few out, notice how you feel, and pick your favorite. Then say it as often as you like.

Technique #2

Sometimes when the stress is high, it’s not enough to just say a mantra. Take the edge off by taking a few slow, deep breaths: breathe in to a count of four, hold for two, and breathe out to a count of six.

Technique #3

Then, acknowledge your anxiety. The more you fight it, the more it fights back by growing deeper and more intense. So instead of resisting, or trying to force calmness, just reinterpret how you’re feeling as excitement. Anxiety and excitement are both sympathetic nervous system reactions that don’t feel all that different from each other, so the shift is minor. Besides, aren’t you excited you get to go demonstrate your knowledge, and then be done!?

Technique #4

Visualization, or creating mental images of what you desire, is another powerful stress-relieving technique. Imagine walking out of that test room Saturday early afternoon, and feel the excitement—the relieving, proud, freeing feeling. Imagine seeing your test score for the first time and being shocked at how well you did. Yes!

Really, you can imagine anything at all that makes you feel good. Imagine being somewhere peaceful (the beach, the forest, outer space!) and notice the sights, sounds, smells, and sensations.

Your imagination is limitless; try to bring it into your whole body. Think of a person, real or fictional, who inspires you, and embody their energy. Be this person as you navigate the day of your test.

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